by Fiona Mountain
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group
$25.95, 544 pages
ISBN 13 :978-0-399-1563666
On Sale:July 2010
Eleanor Glanville is viewed by the people who knew her as possessed, a bit odd, possibly a witch and all because she chased butterflies. In history she was a brilliant entomologist, with a butterfly named after her, The Glanville Flitillary. Emma Campion’s version of Eleanor Glanville’e life is one of the best historical fiction books I have read this year. Her writing is beautiful and flows with grace and charm. I cherish each chapter of her novel as many beg to be read again and again. Her writing has a natural cadence and lyrical flow page after page. I didn’t want it to end. A word of caution: read it slowly, you will want to savor this story, it is an emotional journey to remember.
Synopsis from the cover:
“So begins the unforgettable story of Eleanor Glanville, the beautiful daughter of a seventeenth-century Puritan nobleman whose unconventional passions scandalized society. Still known as on of the great natural scientists of her age Eleanor was a woman ahead of her time. But her life was marked by two reckless obsessions: a fascination with science-especially the study of butterflies-and a romance that nearly cost her everything she held dear.”
This is a difficult review to write without revealing too much of the story. Therefore, I will concentrate more on the character of Eleanor who is the foundation of the story. Campion has lifted the real Eleanor Glanville from the history books and gives her voice and soul. We may not know what she was really like, but in this story she becomes touchable. As Eleanor studies the perfection in butterflies, Campion exposes the imperfections in humans, and Eleanor is no different, making her truly believable.
Eleanor is a woman out of sync with her time period. She is a strong willed, free spirited woman of the seventeenth century, who will not submit to the wifely roles society expects of her. She is so passionate about her views, true love is often secondary. She is a woman alive during the Age of Reason, yet her Puritan upbringing always haunts her decisions. She faces difficult choices about her property, her religion and her loves. Her father’s voice is an omnipresent reminder that has influence on her conscience, a burden throughout her life, especially her inability to trust. Whether right or wrong, good or bad she lives with the consequences of her actions. Eleanor would fit nicely in contemporary society. She must balance career and family, at odds with the 17th century female role, yet perfectly normal today. The three men she loves are completely different men who satisfy her in very different ways. There were so many times while reading, I would pause and a foreshadow of doom would arise. I had no power to stop it. I wanted to shake her and say, “NO!” This is what makes this book such an agonizing yet fulfilling read. The unexpected, the expected, the frustration, the joy, the sadness, the agony, the bliss and the hope for Eleanor’s future. Lady of the Butterflies is a kaleidoscope of feelings that radiated from beginning to end. Highly recommended. as it is without question one of my favorite books of 2010.
Disclosure: This book was sent to me as part of the Early Reviewer program on Library Thing. This book was sent at no cost to me and my review is my honest unbiased opinion.
Historical Context: Plague, London Fires, Charles II, Age of Reason, Disease-Ague(Malaria), James Petiver, Eleanor Glanville, Draining of Moors, Age of Reason
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